A couple of weeks ago it was widely reported that prostate cancer had become the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK. Partly driven by campaigns encouraging men to get tested by celebrities Stephen Fry, Rod Stewart and Bill Turnbull it had overtaken breast cancer.
Last night I learned at first-hand how it can affect a man of my age when we met up with an old friend who was diagnosed back in 2013. It all started when he noticed blood in his urine while on holiday. When he got home he booked in for the standard PSA test and rectal examination which led to what he described as a very painful biopsy that confirmed his worst fears.
After considering all the options he opted to have his prostate removed which, as can happen, devastatingly led to incontinence and impotence. Sometime later and after lots of issues with the NHS he underwent another operation which corrected the damage and thankfully he’s back to relatively full health.
It’s clear though that the experience of having cancer and going through the pain and stress of two serious operations has left him mentally scarred. He’s also far from happy with the advice given, how he had to drive the whole process with the NHS and how the very radical side-effects of the prostectomy were downplayed.
It’s sad that despite increased awareness and the good work of charities such as Prostate Cancer UK who’s familiar man badge is worn by lots of sports broadcasters it still gets far less attention than Breast Cancer.
The testing, funding – in the US breast cancer gets five times more funding than prostate – support and treatment options are nowhere near comparable despite the now increased prevalence of prostate cancer.
Is this to do with a gender bias, are women’s lives seen as more important, and if so why? Maybe the breast cancer charities are just more effective fund and awareness raisers. Maybe women are just better at dealing with health issues than men.
I got checked out a few years ago and was told I had an enlarged prostate but I did not have cancer and therefore had nothing to worry about. No advice was given, no follow-up check scheduled, nothing. When I heard about my friend’s cancer journey I vowed to get checked out again but if I were ever to be faced with the diagnosis and the devastating side effects of the treatment I’m not sure what I’d decide.
The ability to get an erection feels to me to be at the heart of what makes a man a man and that coupled with the risk of incontinence made me wonder whether it would be better to just take your chances and go without the surgery.
I know I’d probably think differently if faced with the choice but it’s a big issue to deal with and the decision would be far from straight-forward.
The statistics for the UK are scary:
- 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.
- More than 47,500 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year – that’s 129 men every day.
- Every 45 minutes one man dies from prostate cancer – that’s more than 11,500 men every year.
- Around 400,000 men are living with and after prostate cancer.
With those numbers I can’t help feeling more should be done.